Drafting My Complaint
You've done everything you can to avoid litigation and reach a peaceful resolution, but to no avail. You've looked at your case and know that Small Claims Court is the right place to be. You've identified your defendant(s) and know the venue, or what state and county court you want to sue in. Now you are ready to draft the complaint and file your claim.
A complaint form can be obtained online in most states or from the clerk of the court. Soon forms will be available on this site specifically for airline related small claims actions. Virtually all states have a court website with appropriate forms online and many allow you to electronically file. Check out Picking the Right State for Your Claim for court links.
Most, if not all, airlines will be corporations or subsidiaries of corporations. For more information about naming business entities check out Part 1: What You Should Know Before Filing in Small Claims Court or Guide To Finding And Understanding Your Corporate Defendant in our Resources section regarding corporations, subsidiaries and the law.
The first section identifies the plaintiff, the person bring the lawsuit. As the plaintiff you would fill in your contact information as requested. If a spouse, child or someone else is going to be a plaintiff as well you should identify these individuals on a separate form provided by the clerk of the court, commonly titled Additional Plaintiffs/Defendants. If a minor is a plaintiff you will also need an Application to Appoint a Guardian ad Litem form as well. Check the appropriate box on the complaint form to indicate whether there are additional plaintiffs.
If you are suing as a business entity, as a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, corporation or some other association then you will need to provide your Fictitious Business Statement number and fill out an additional form regarding the business registration details. If you possess ownership in a company that purchased the tickets, you will want to name the business as a plaintiff in the lawsuit for the company to recover the cost of the ticket. The same would be true if you were recovering damages, including the cost of a ticket paid by your employer.
This is the section wherein you name the airline and any airline executives, employees or passengers you want to include in the lawsuit. Naming the right entity is key as you must sue the right entity or your action may be dismissed and you will have to start over from the beginning.
Most, if not all, airlines will be corporations or subsidiaries of corporations. For more information about naming business entities check out Part 1: What You Should Know Before Filing in Small Claims Court or in our Resources section regarding corporations, subsidiaries and the law.
You may name an airline as a Defendant in every state in which the airline conducts business, to every destination the airline flies. As a corporation the airline is required to provide to the Secretary of State for that state a statutory agent for service of process. When a plaintiff files a lawsuit the statutory agent is authorized to accept service of the complaint on behalf of the airline. To find the statutory agent look at the Secretary of State website or visit the Corporations Division of the local office. For easy reference check out our Secretary of State Corporate Records Database reference page for a full listing or do a quick search now from any state in Picking the Right State For Your Claim. If your search returns no results, the airline may not operate in that state and you will have to look at other possible jurisdictions. The airline may also operate under another name and you will have to look at the airline's website or SEC filings for more information of the proper name as the airline will have sister airlines and subsidiaries. For example, American Eagle is a subsidiary of American Airlines. When you name the defendant you must also provide the contact information for the statutory agent for the complaint to be served on the agent in state. It is the agent's responsibility to forward the complaint to the appropriate person within the defendant's organization.
Remember that you cannot force an individual to litigate a case in a state where you do not have proper jurisdiction. Just because the airline does business in the state in question and can be sued there does not mean that any or all individuals you also want to include in the case can be sued in that state. Each individual must reside in the state, own property in that state, or have been involved personally in the actual incident in the state. Without what the court deems sufficient minimum contacts with a state, you cannot sue the individual in that state.
If there is an individual, such as a flight attendant you want to individually name but you do not have that person's name, you can name that person as Jane Doe or John Doe or simply Does 1 through X allowing you the opportunity to substitute the proper name of the individual at a later date when the name becomes known. Jane or John Doe or Does 1 though 5, for example, is a legal construction to allow for the naming of defendant(s) that you believe exist but are unable to properly name at the time of filing.
Specifics of Your Claim:
You must specify how much the Defendant owes you and why. Succinctly explain why the Defendant owes you the referenced amount. This is the meat of your complaint so be clear and concise, giving the court a legitimate basis to award a favorable judgment. Provide the date or dates of the incident and how you calculated the damages owed. If you must use additional pages to describe the incident do not exceed one page as the court will not likely read a lengthy statement and you will have a greater tendency to allow emotion to seep in. Save your argument for the hearing.
You will be required to specify whether you have made an attempt to resolve the issue with the Defendant. In most jurisdictions if you made no effort to contact the Defendant prior to filing the court will dismiss the action until you have made even a minimal effort to resolve the issue without judicial intervention.
You will also need to verify that the court has proper jurisdiction by identifying one or more bases for filing your complaint in that courthouse.
Certificate of Service:
The person who serves the complaint will complete this section. It is the form that verifies that the complaint was indeed served on the Defendant so that the Defendant has notice of the lawsuit.